When Chef Rafael Ruiz, owner of Finch Hutton Restaurant in Nederland, scheduled the grand opening of Tibideaux’s New Orleans Kitchen on Calder Avenue in Beaumont, he wanted to do something special. Encouraged by the popularity of his exquisite French/American cuisine, Ruiz was expanding his offerings to introduce his own twist on traditional New Orleans fare at this new casual, family-oriented restaurant in Beaumont. He announced that all proceeds from the grand opening of Tibideaux’s would benefit the IEA-Inspire, Encourage, Achieve program and the lives of young people served through its Ben’s Kids outreach initiative and mentoring program at the Minnie Rogers Juvenile Justice Center (MRJJC).
A strong believer in giving youth an opportunity in business and in life, Ruiz explains, “I grew up in similar circumstances to some of these kids — I had a rough upbringing in San Antonio — and I understand the importance of mentoring youth with job training in order to help them develop the skills they need to succeed in life.”
Acting on his desire to offer genuine on-the-job-training to youth who have had to overcome obstacles, Ruiz developed an apprenticeship program at Tibideaux’s and hired two IEA/Ben’s Kids students who are joining the new restaurant staff.
“They will do an internship here, learning the French Brigade System for cooks, which will provide them with the background they need to enter cooking school one day,” he said.
IEA Executive Director Angeliqueca Avery said, “We are encouraged by Chef Rafael’s belief in the potential of the young people whose lives will be transformed by the opportunity to increase their employability skills. The two young men that he has hired have already demonstrated choices which reflect a menu consisting of stronger character, solid work ethic and brighter futures. One of them stated, ‘Most people don’t get to see a restaurant being built from the ground up. I have gotten an inside look on the process of shaping a business. It’s a really good experience for me and my career.’”
Ruiz, who himself became a certified chef through the American Culinary Federation (ACF), appreciates the steps necessary to progress in the cooking profession.
“I plan to start with a couple of kids and teach them real cooking skills. Everything will be made from scratch, and all training will be one-on-one with either myself or with my master chef in order to help these students mature into real chefs one day,” he said.
Ruiz developed his compassion for kids through the school of hard knocks. “I was once a lost soul who was taken under wing by a real chef who gave me my first real chance through chef training at La Louisiane in San Antonio,” he said.
The Tibideaux’s New Orleans Kitchen menu offers affordable New Orleans-inspired cuisine, including muffalettas, boudain, po’boys, and a root-beer float with smoked ice cream. But Tibideaux’s will also offer IEA/Ben’s Kids much-needed job training and career opportunities.
“Becoming involved in IEA and helping these kids is a no-brainer for me,” Ruiz explains. “I didn’t want this to be a for-profit business only. I really wanted to give something back to the community.”
The mission of IEA-Inspire, Encourage, Achieve is to initiate and support educational programming and rehabilitative services for at-risk youth in Southeast Texas by inspiring and encouraging them to achieve. The program was started by the family of Ben Rogers to perpetuate his legacy of helping young people achieve dignity and respect through knowledge, compassion, understanding and love, all in partnership with the Jefferson County Juvenile Probation Department.
For more information, contact the IEA office at (409) 839-8778.
James Shannon can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 249, or by e-mail at james [at] beaumontbusinessjournal [dot] com.